At this time of year, the Bears find themselves yet again in an annually familiar position.
For the 17th season in a row, the No. 13 Cal men’s tennis team will compete in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Tennis Tournament. And after earning one of the tournament’s top seeds, the Bears will be playing host during opening rounds of the tournament.
Saturday’s first-round matchup features Ole Miss (18-7) versus Denver (17-7) in the morning. The matinee matchup between Cal (17-6) and Army (18-8) will take place shortly after, at about noon. The winners of both matchups will play Sunday afternoon in the Hellman Tennis Complex for the right to advance to the field of 32.
Cal last played April 23, falling to No. 2 UCLA in the finals of the Pac-12 Championship. Although their last match was a disappointing loss weeks ago, the Bears certainly look to be the favorite this weekend, given both their high ranking and undefeated home record.
“(Playing at home) is a big deal,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “Sleeping in our own beds, familiar courts, everything is easier at home, especially given finals in the background.”
While student-athletes are no strangers to balancing academics and athletics, the end of the semester can certainly take its toll.
“During finals season, people can be a little less patient, be a little more on edge,” Wright said. “Our job on the athletics side is to help be a release for some of that stress they’re going through. We’re really trying to keep to the basics and let them blow off some steam on the courts.”
In his 23rd year coaching Cal, Wright may know a thing or two about getting the most out of his players, both on the court and in the classroom. On Monday, Wright was named the Wilson/ITA Northwest Regional Coach of the Year, marking his second time winning the award. He’s certainly earned this distinction, both with the athletic success of his team and with recent academic reports finding that the Cal men’s tennis team earned a perfect score on their Academic Progress Rates.
Similarly, Army’s head coach Jim Poling was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year. Under Poling’s leadership, the Black Knights clinched a berth in the tournament by winning the Patriot League title over Navy.
In addition, this Army team has collected a wealth of accolades in the Patriot League. David Mitchell was named Freshman of the Year while the doubles team of Harrison McCormick and Grant Riechmann earned the Doubles Team of the Year award. Sam Lampman garnered All-Patriot League First Team honors while Mitchell, Riechmann and Michael Nguyen were named to the All-Patriot Second Team.
Never before have Cal and Army faced off. Cal is led by the usual suspects — No. 30 Florian Lakat and No. 31 Andre Goransson — who both earned invitations to compete in the NCAA Singles Tournament following the team tournament. Lakat also claimed a spot in the NCAA Doubles Tournament and will be playing alongside teammate Filip Bergevi. No. 85 Billy Griffith and No. 124 Oskar Wikberg round out a deep squad for the Bears.
“We’re in as good a place as we can be heading into the postseason,” Wright said. “We’re fired up.”
Jeffrey Liu covers men’s tennis.
Contact him at [email protected]